SUN 24 - 3 - 2019
Date: Apr 3, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Sarin attack survivors grieve one year on
Agence France Presse
KHAN SHEIKHOUN, Syria: On his wedding anniversary Wednesday, 29-year-old Syrian Abdel-Hamid Yusuf will have nothing to mark but a chemical attack that killed his wife and two baby children.

At least 80 people were killed on April 4 last year, on Yusuf and his wife’s anniversary, when warplanes dropped sarin gas on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria.

The chemical assault on the rebel-held town was one of the most shocking of Syria’s now 7-year-old war, causing global outrage and rare retaliatory airstrikes by the U.S.

“I’ve been deprived of part of my body, of my soul,” the young widower said, breaking into tears as he sat in the garden of his now empty home.

An image of Yusuf holding the lifeless bodies of his 11-month-old twins Aya and Ahmad spread around the world in the wake of the attack.

Yusuf also lost his wife Dalal and 16 other relatives, including his brother, nephew and many cousins.

As Yusuf visits the cemetery to weed the graves of his loved ones 12 months on, his grief and anger is still raw. “I won’t be able to start over. I won’t forget the past,” he said.

Khan Sheikhoun lies in Syria’s Idlib province, the last in the country to remain largely beyond the control of President Bashar Assad’s regime.

United Nations war crimes investigators said that they have evidence Syrian government forces were responsible for the deadly attack on Khan Sheikhoun. However, the allegations have been rejected by Damascus and its ally Russia.

“We want the international community to take a strong stand ... Assad needs to pay,” Yusuf said.

The early morning raid last year killed more than 80 people including 30 children, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Witnesses said they saw people drop to the ground, convulsing violently, some with white foam pouring out of their mouths.

Ahmad al-Yusuf, 20, lost both his parents and two young brothers – Mohammad and Anwar – on a day he says he will never forget.

His mother had woken him up to perform morning prayers before he headed out to work on his grandfather’s land.

After the strikes hit, he rushed back home to find his neighbor sitting on the ground, shaking uncontrollably and incapable of talking – but staring straight at him.

“I’ll never forget that day or those details,” said the young man with a short haircut, who now runs the family’s convenience store on his own.

“I lost all my family – everything that was dearest to me.”

He clings to their memory even as he adapts to his new life alone.

“Whether I’m coming or going at home, I always see them in front of me,” he said.

The deadly strikes on Khan Sheikhoun sparked international condemnation and caused the United States to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield allegedly used in the attack.

But the bereaved residents feel nothing further has been done to hold those responsible to account.

Mohammad al-Jawhara, a 24-year-old with blond hair and blue eyes, lost his parents, nephew and several cousins.

“It was such a shock. How do you bear seeing them all die in a single day?” he asked.

The Khan Sheikhoun attack was yet another low point in Syria’s war, which started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. Multiple rounds of United Nations-backed talks have failed to stem the fighting, and Russia-backed regime forces have instead made significant military gains across the country.

Jawhara expresses frustration at what he sees as the insufficient response of the international community in holding Assad to account.

“We hoped he would be tried and have to pay” for what he did, said the student, who aims to be a teacher one day.

World leaders “have made statement after statement, but in the end they have been weak.”

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